Seashell Topiary



Do you enjoy making Christmas gifts and holiday decor ?  Crafting has remained a part of my December preparations since I was little.  And quite often I find myself turning to beautiful seashells for my projects.

When I was young, we came home from beach vacations with bags full of beautiful shells picked up along the islands off of North Carolina.  I worked those into wreathes and Christmas tree ornaments, and lit tabletop trees.  I remember one year hundreds of beautiful moon shells washed up along the northern end of Virginia Beach after a late summer storm.




I lived in Virginia Beach for many years, before moving to Williamsburg, and sea themed Christmas decor became a way of life there.  I still love seeing shells worked into wreathes and garlands.

Now, finding shells on the beach has become a rare treat, and I end up buying bags of shells for my projects or relying on friends to share shells leftover from shellfish meals.  But there are many shell ‘beads’ wherever beading materials are sold, pearl tipped floral pins, and of course freshwater pearls to add a bit of elegance.

Back in the 70s and 80s many crafters finished their shell projects with a heavy coat of shellac or polyurethane.  I find this look dated and heavy.  I begin by wiping each shell with a light coating of mineral oil, which seeps into the shell’s structure and gives a more natural luster.  This brings out the beautiful colors, as though the shell were still seen through the surf.  The mineral oil lasts, but can be renewed easily should the shells ever begin to look dull.




I made three shell topiary trees last December.  We enjoyed them so much that they never quite got given away or even put away.  They are still there on the mantle in the den waiting for the Santas to come out of storage.

I’ve made a new one this year; a taller one.  And I took lessons learned from earlier projects to make this one even better.  You see it here with little folk art Santas we picked up at a local crafts fair yesterday.

Shell topiary trees can be crafted in many different ways.  You might find these beautiful, or hopelessly tacky.  But on the chance that you feel a little inspired to make one for yourself, know that this is a fairly easy project to accomplish in  just a few hours.




I’ll offer just a few tips to ease your efforts should you want to make your own shell tree.  I begin with a Styrofoam base, and cover the base with fabric.  A good low temperature glue gun is the essential tool for this project.  The actual Styrofoam cone may be anchored in a flower pot, on a wooden base, or even on shell ‘feet’ depending on your style.

After sorting and polishing the shells, begin by hot gluing the larger shells on to the fabric.  Anchor one shell to its neighbor where they touch with a touch of hot glue.  It is important to work slowly and cautiously at this stage to avoid burning oneself on the glue gun’s tip or on freshly squeezed hot glue.  Remember to carefully consider each shell to use it to best advantage.  Most shells have more than one beautiful side, and can be glued in several different ways to showcase different parts of the shell.




Keep turning the tree as you work and work from bottom to top, building up your design layer by layer.  One can  overlap shells slightly to cover any broken edges or flaws.  Some crafters keep gluing here, and build up a second glued layer of shells to completely cover the base.  But I prefer a different approach.




Once the tree is mostly covered, and a ‘top’ glued into place, it is time to fill in the spaces to cover every tiny bit of fabric possible.  I’ve used a combination of small shells sold as beads, bits of shell sold as beads, and freshwater pearls.  Each of these smaller pieces came pre-drilled with a hole just the right size to accept a straight pin.  Depending on your taste and purpose, you might even incorporate some glass or metal beads at this point in the design to embellish the tree.



Again, I work around the entire tree, turning it frequently.  I usually complete the top first and then work down to fill in the spaces with small shell ‘beads’  and pearls.  At some point, all of the spaces are filled and you know your tree is finished.  And other than letting the tree sit undisturbed for a few hours while the glue hardens, that is all there is to it.  Your tree is now ready to display.

This tree will serve as decoration for a holiday gathering next week before heading out to a loved one’s home for the remainder of the holidays.   But I’m keeping these cute Santas, and will bring their brothers out to join them one day soon!

Happy Holidays!




Woodland Gnome 2016


About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

4 responses to “Seashell Topiary

  1. They’re beautiful art pieces. You’re so creative!

  2. I love those shells made into a topiary…beautiful 🙂

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